Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Proposed legal aid cuts: what these could mean for migrant domestic workers

The Government has issued proposals to make massive cuts to the Legal Aid Budget. If implemented this would include cutting all legal aid for immigration (other than asylum) and employment cases. The consultation can be found at http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/legal-aid-reform-151110.htm and the deadline for responses is the 14th February 2011. Please do respond, either on the government’s preferred form, or outlining your concerns in a letter.

Kalayaan gives basic immigration and employment advice to migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in the UK and as we are not funded by legal aid this direct advice work would not be affected. However none of the staff at Kalayaan are solicitors nor are we qualified, or legally able, to give more than very basic advice. We are very dependent on referrals to solicitors who are either funded by legal aid or work ‘pro bono’ (for free, in their own time). The proposed cuts would effectively put an end to the majority of referrals as those working pro bono are already overworked and would be completely swamped by the cases no longer dealt with under legal aid. If the cuts are implemented as proposed only those with extreme, and ‘attractive’ test cases are likely to find representation, or those who can pay for it. The most vulnerable will be left with inadequate support to access the justice system. 

MDWs seeking support at Kalayaan 
Kalayaan’s advice service is already stretched to its limits, as is that of the solicitors to whom we make referrals. There will be more pressure than ever for committed individuals in the legal services to take on cases for which they simply do not have the time or capacity, with potentially serious results as cases are not given the time they should be. Others will just be turned away. The most vulnerable, with the least connections or ability to pay would be very unlikely to be able to access justice. Cuts are also likely to result in an increase in unscrupulous individuals charging large amounts of money for very bad advice. This is already something we see too much of at Kalayaan with individuals coming to us in far more debt and often in a worse legal position than they would have been had they not taken the advice.

The Government suggests in its proposals that individuals be less quick to use the legal system, instead trying less formal resolutions. In the case of migrant domestic workers, who often have little if any education, and whose employers are frequently themselves legal professionals this is unrealistic. The power imbalances are extreme and there may have been years of psychological abuse making an unsupported challenge impossible.

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